Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the USA seeking to end a ban on entry into the hemp cultivation sector for those previously convicted on drug charges.
While hemp became legal at a Federal level in 2018 and is now considered just another agricultural crop in the USA, there is still a law in place prohibiting people with a felony drug conviction within the past 10 years from cultivating it. With the annual value of U.S. hemp production having grown to over $800 million, many individuals are being prevented from participating in a thriving industry.
Under the “The Free to Grow Act”, introduced by senior House Agriculture Committee Member Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Representatives David Trone (D-Md.), David Joyce (R-Ohio), and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), this would change.
“The upcoming Farm Bill gives Congress a once-in-five-years opportunity to correct the unfair policy that bans people with drug convictions from growing hemp,” said Congresswoman Pingree.
As well as bipartisan backing, the bill has been supported by industry groups including U.S. Hemp Roundtable.
“We believe that if you have paid your time, you should be able to grow a perfectly legal crop,” said Jonathan Miller, General Counsel of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable. “Prohibiting exonerated drug felons from participating in the hemp industry only perpetuates disenfranchisement and social injustice as many drug-related convictions, particularly those involving marijuana, have often been racially targeted.”
The Free to Grow Act of 2023 would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946.
Removal of the law would not only provide many more with a chance to enter the sector, but also further distance hemp from an unfortunate association with its cousin, marijuana. The difference between the two is the level of psychoactive cannabinoid THC, which only exists in small amounts in hemp.
Trivia: In 2021, 54,152 acres of hemp was grown in the open in the USA, and the area harvested for all utilizations totaled 33,480 acres. Hemp grown under protection totaled around 358 acres. The state with the largest harvested areas for crops grown out in the open was Montana with 4,500 acres.